An introduction to the class. We’ll review course mechanics and get a sense of the puzzles and problems we will tackle.
Here is some information on the 2013 UN Women campaign we discussed in class:
Much talk about computing is characterized by rather strong and simple narratives. In this session, we will analyze a number of examples, explore the notion of "cyberbole", and learn some useful analytical tools.
- Woolgar, Steve. “Five Rules of Virtuality.” In Virtual Society? Technology, Cyberbole, Reality, edited by Steve Woolgar, 1–22. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Crawford, Kate. Think Again: Big Data. Foreign Policy, May 10, 2013.
What are computers and where do they come from? We’ll look at some of the (surprising) ways in which people have approached the history of computing.
Grier, David Alan. “Human Computers: The First Pioneers of the Information Age.” Endeavour 25, no. 1 (March 1, 2001): 28–32.
Lunenfeld, Peter. The Secret War Between Downloading and Uploading: Tales of the Computer as Culture Machine. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2011, pp. 142-178 (Chapter: Generations).
Graham-Cumming, John, The Greatest Machine That Never Was. TEDxImperialCollege, 2012.
When people talk about computers, they also talk about “the user”. In this session, we’ll have a closer look at this rather strange and mystical figure.
- Wyatt, Sally. “Non-Users Also Matter: The Construction of Users and Non-Users of the Internet.” In: How Users Matter: The Co-Construction of Users and Technology, edited by Nelly Oudshoorn and Trevor Pinch, 67–79. Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 2003.
Woolgar, Steve. “Configuring the User: The Case of Usability Trials.” The Sociological Review 38, no. S1 (May 1, 1990): 58–99.
Deadline for Essay 1 (Offline Life Diary): In class
What counts as “private” and “public”, and why does it matter? How do people go about drawing the line between the two in practice?
Privacy is not just an everyday practical challenge, but also an important political issue. In this session, we’ll review and compare different approaches to conceptualizing privacy.
Nissenbaum, Helen. “A Contextual Approach to Privacy Online.” Daedalus 140, no. 4 (2011): 32–48.
Picking up from where the movie left us off, we'll be diving deeper into questions of everyday surveillance. What are the issues? How to think about them?
We’ll have an in-class debate about a particular controversy. The exact topic will be announced closer to the date.
- Prepare for discussion by doing you own research. What issues have come up on around the topic? Who is concerned about what? Have there been specific cases that can illuminate our understanding of the case?
Data is “the new oil”, people say. But what actually counts as “data”? Is there such a thing as “raw” data?
- Rosenberg, Daniel. “Data Before the Fact.” In Raw Data Is an Oxymoron, edited by Lisa Gitelman, 15–40. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013.
Deadline for Essay 2: Friday, March 9, 5pm
Collecting information and entering it into a database sounds harmless. But in real life, the way we organize and process data can have profound consequences.
- Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Susan Leigh Star. “The Case of Race Classification and Reclassification under Apartheid.” In Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences, 195-225. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.
- Noah, Trevor. Born a Crime. Spiegel & Grau: New York 2016, ch. 1 and 2.
Law, John. “Seeing Like a Survey.” Cultural Sociology 3, no. 2 (July 6, 2009): 239–56.
In this class, we will go on a walk – an algorithmic walk. Please dress appropriately. We will go rain or shine.
We will debrief the walk and think a bit further about algorithms. How to make sense of these powerful yet inscrutable entities?
Helmreich, Stefan. "Recombination, Rationality, Reductionism and Romantic Reactions: Culture, Computers, and the Genetic Algorithm." Social Studies of Science 28, no. 1 (1998): 39–71.
Seaver, Nick. "Algorithmic Recommendations and Synaptic Functions." Limn no 2 (2016).
Ziewitz, Malte. "Governing Algorithms: Myth, Mess, and Methods." Science, Technology & Human Values 41, no. 1 (2016): 3–16.
What happens when you invite people to rate their dishwashers, doctors, lawyers, hotels, haircuts, and ex-boyfriends online?
We're going for an in-class design challenge: devise a rating scheme that solves a social problem (without creating too many new ones!).
- No readings. Think about a social problem that might be tackled through some sort of review or rating scheme.
We will conduct a poster session and present selected projects in class.
Deadline for Essay 3: Friday, April 13, 5pm
In the final section, we will attend specifically to materialities. How to think about the "stuff" computing cultures are made off?
This session is about the invisible work we all depend upon but rarely talk about: IT support, software maintenance, data cleaning.
Irani, Lilly C., and M. Six Silberman. “Turkopticon: Interrupting Worker Invisibility in Amazon Mechanical Turk.” In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 611–20. CHI ’13. New York, NY, USA: ACM, 2013.
What happens to your iPhone 5 when you buy an iPhone 6? In this session, we will have a look at trash, and how it's travelling around the world with different implications for different people.
- Gabrys, Jennifer. Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011, chapter 3, ‘Shipping and Receiving,’ pp. 74-100.
This session is about a set of things we take for granted: the vast network of undersea cables that connects us across continents and cultures.
Extended abstract for Essay 4 due: Friday, Apr 27, 5pm
You’ll read and discuss each other’s feedback on extended abstracts.
- Two assigned extended abstracts from your classmates.
Peer reviews due: before class
We'll discuss Spike Jonze's movie in class – and see what topics and themes from the past few weeks we might recognize.
- Jonze, Spike. "Her." (2014). (The movie is available for streaming via Blackboard > Course reserves.)
Time to say goodbye and look back at what we learned this semester.